At the time, MCA was best known as a film studio with roots in music, but it was looking to branch out into other avenues. The company received word of Gregg's ideas and saw an opportunity to offer its vast film catalog in a format that viewers could enjoy at home. MCA purchased Gauss Electrophysics in 1968 and in two years, it developed the first DRAW (direct read after write) optical disc recorder.
After the buyout, Gauss Electrophysics was renamed MCA Disco-Vision -- no relation to the flash-in-the-pan music scene -- and its new Torrance, Calif., laboratories focused on developing the technology for consumers. Public demonstrations of the new "video disc" format began around 1972, with the company proudly displaying the ability to access random information anywhere on the disc and freeze a single frame of video.
MCA Discovision (it eventually lost the hyphen) had high hopes for its new product and partnered with Philips -- which had been developing a similar technology -- to create an optical disc standard called the "Videodisc System." To help with the hardware end of things, it teamed up with Pioneer, leading to the company's first consumer optical disc player under the company name of "Universal Pioneer." Not surprisingly, the potential for these devices went beyond simply watching films. The ability to navigate quickly to any section of data on the disc was equally useful in the industrial sector, and General Motors put it to use as an interactive sales tool in its automotive showrooms.
IBM also showed interest in the technology, seeing the potential for data storage applications, and in 1979 it partnered with the company, leading to the new name: Discovision Associates (DVA). It was good news that the format's multifaceted capabilities were appealing, because the technology fell short as a consumer video product, suffering frequent disc errors on considerably expensive players. While the videodisc suffered, VHS and Betamax flourished, offering the ability to play and record, all at a much lower price point. In a surprising move, Pioneer chose to purchase the majority of DVA's flagging videodisc assets during the mid '80s and continued to market the product under a new name: LaserDisc.
While it took a few decades for technology to match the high standards of Gregg's innovative vision, its final form influenced a major market shift. In stores, displays once stacked high with videotapes and cassettes gave way to slim, all-purpose plastic discs. The product was cheap, easy to mass-produce and offered the sharp clarity of digital for both audio and video output. The optical disc helped users escape the questionable fidelity of consumer tape products, bridging the gap until bandwidth and processing power made digital downloads plausible. Optical disc technology brought us the age of CDs, CD-ROMs and perhaps most notably, DVDs and Blu-ray discs, which came full circle to the optical disc's origins, finally delivering the product as it was originally intended.